What came first, the music or the misery?
– Nick Hornby, High Fidelity
About the Mixtape project
Mixtape #1: Interpol, “NYC”
Mixtape #2: Violent Femmes, “Kiss Off”
Mixtape #3: Cyndi Lauper, “All Through the Night”
Mixtape #4: Towa Tei, “Technova
Mixtape #5: Teresa Teng, “The Moon Represents My Heart”
Mixtape #6: David Bowie, “Soul Love”
Mixtape #7: Modest Mouse, “Styrofoam Boots/It’s All Nice on Ice, Alright”
Mixtape #8: Elvis Costello, “Beyond Belief”
Mixtape #9: Mountain Brothers, “Paperchase”
Mixtape #10: Don Gibson, “Born to Lose”
Mixtape #11: TV on the Radio, “Staring at the Sun”
Mixtape #12: ABBA, “Knowing Me, Knowing You”
Mixtape #13: Morphine, “Cure for Pain”
Around the turns they go, sixty miles an hour on a rural New Jersey road marked with a yellow sign with a black squiggle: treacherous turns. The car lurches. He jerks his hand on the stick shift, her hand gripped tight on the passenger-side door handle. His hair gleams in the sunlight. She studies his profile. The symmetrical face — her features are lopsided, a lazy left eyeball that somehow manages to drift into the center of her face whenever pictures are taken, crooked teeth — while his features are oversized, comical when glimpsed at a certain side angle. Wide, almost leery eyes; broad, square teeth; wide mouth; long nose. The blue of his eyes is thin, like the veins she can see beneath his skin. What is like, being him? She could never be him; she’d never want to. She thinks of golden retrievers romping. He lives in a world unfamiliar to her, a mixture of cheery naïvete and unseemly drama. His friends scare her, and the town feels further away from the city that it actually is, everything thrown into sharp relief. His complaints are of things she doesn’t understand, and at first they had felt like satire: the grudge against the waitress who’d looked at him the wrong way, the fit he’d thrown when he misplaced his keys and then found them, later that night. He couldn’t possibly be serious about these things, and to these depths, could he?
He’s older than her, and lives alone. There are secrets hinted at, that could partly explain the rage at the misplaced keys, how genuinely angry he seemed when he showed her an old illustrated story he’d written as an eight year old, yelling, “It’s so stupid, it’s such a baby thing, who wrote that? A baby! A baby!”
At other times he says things like, “I want to be with you forever,” and she wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t decide if she’s comforted or frightened.
She is back in New Jersey in a fog of grief, interning at a publishing company and working as a receptionist at an insurance company. A friend of hers died recently, his car going off a cliff. She cut all her hair off and moved back in with her parents, who seem angry with her for growing up. They barely talk; she’s barely home. In the fall, she will go back to school.
He turns to her and says, “You know I’ll never hurt you. I’ll never hit you.”
She wonders if this is a joke, but then she realizes he’s serious.
I never thought you would, she is about to say, but he accelerates around the next turn and the motor roars. She grips the door handle even tighter and sees her friend’s car going down the cliff, again and again.